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|Backs Against the Wall|
Chapter 12-Backs Against the Wall
Words of Avatar Roku:
The winds shriek.
The water surges.
A flash of light opens a wound in the sky for a split second, followed by the crash of thunder.
The Storm is upon us.
As it rages against our will, threatening to overtake us, we realize that we have nowhere to run.
We press our backs against the wall and surrender to our lowest instincts, fully aware that our love, our most precious treasure, is in as much danger as we are.
The Storm continues its relentless assault.
Our will falters for a moment...
...and the Storm overtakes us.
And At the End of Times, a Great Storm Shall Swallow the World Whole...
Ba Sing Se, Royal Palace courtyard...
"Get behind me!" Aang yelled. Zuko, Mai, and Katara obediently acted. The bolt of lightning crossed the distance in less than a heartbeat. Aang extended his arm, receiving the lightning, but was in no position to return it, and was about to release it into the night sky when he felt a pressure on his hand.
Zuko stood, grasping Aang's extended fingers; his other hand was pointed directly back at Azula.
Aang released the energy and felt it flow out his hand to Zuko, and the bolt leapt from his friends' fingertips. The sky itself seemed to split open as the bolt returned to Azula, snarling and crackling.
Azula threw herself aside, barely dodging the searing strike.
He released Zuko and slammed his foot into the ground. Two enormous boulders erupted from the earth, and he pelted them at Azula's figure. She slipped over the other side of the rooftop and disappeared, and a crash sounded as the boulders landed on the ground once again.
"Katara!" Aang called, "I want you by my side at all times! You hear me?"
Katara stepped forward, shifting to her Waterbending stance. "I hear you, Aang."
They stood back to back as Azula's thugs emerged from the desperate crowd. Some were Firebenders; others were weapon experts. Either way, they were excellent warriors. They lunged towards Katara and Aang, only to be driven back by a slice of water or blast of air.
Aang was furious, and he wasn't ready to take any survivors. However, he tried his best to stun instead of kill.
"Aang!" Zuko yelled, "Mai HAS to get out of here! She's too weak!"
Aang gave a frustrated growl. "I know, I know!"
In truth, he was terrified for Katara more than for Mai. Azula was targeting Katara, and that's who he wanted to protect, but he knew he had to get Mai and the rest of the crowd out. He threw his head around, desperately trying to locate an exit. He paused to blast a thug away before he resumed looking.
There were four exits from the courtyard, and they had been cut off by Azula's men, brandishing their fire and weapons, keeping the terrified crowd boxed in.
"Enough" he muttered, and blasted an earth tent from the ground.
"Zuko! Get her in there!" he yelled before sending another Firebender flying across the courtyard
Zuko nodded. Scooping Mai up, he bolted for the earth tent, kicking a blazing fireball through five rebels. As soon as he passed inside, Aang closed it.
He and Katara were the only ones left.
Katara was scared. But, at the same time, she was amazingly calm. She stood next to Aang, poised to strike any rebel that dared come within range. With a stony expression, only one thought ran through her mind;
Gritting her teeth, she glanced sideways at him. He was fighting as she had never seen him fight before. Katara smiled slightly. We're going to get through this. And we're going to do it together.
She ducked as a fireball whizzed over her head. She drew water from the air around her and prepared to strike.
Sokka and Toph were nowhere to be seen, and it made her nervous. Azula knows that Sokka is my brother...what if she got him?
"No!" she yelled, pushing the horrible thought from her mind and driving a water whip across the Firebender's face. He fell to the ground, unconscious.
"Nice one!" gasped Aang, who was busy with three of the cronies.
"Thanks!" Katara grunted, joining the scrabble. Together, they drove the rebels back easily. Though they were fierce, the rebels seemed to come endlessly, and they were losing ground.
"Katara!" he exclaimed. "We need to get to the exits and get these people out of here!"
Katara glanced at the rest of them. The crowd was huddled against the walls, watching in terror as they fought. She was about to respond when a sharp, devilish pain closed around her neck, and she cried out.
Aang spun around to face her. She saw his face twist in rage and his eyes began to glow. His arrow seared white and the voice of a thousand Avatars filled the courtyard, reverberating through her bones.
"LET. HER. GO." his eyes glared just past her.
Katara felt her captor's grasp loosen slightly. She looked up as a rebel rushed up from behind Aang, raising his club high above his head. He brought it down harshly, and Aang's entire body shook from the impact.
Katara screamed, "AANG!" as he crumpled to the ground, his glow slowly fading. She twisted violently, trying with no avail to free herself. She began to sob uncontrollably, throwing herself around, trying to break free of the man's rough grasp.
"GET UP!" she screamed at Aang's still form. "You HAVE to get up!" Arching her back, she tried to smack the back of her head into her captor's face. She missed, and got more severe pressure as a reward. So hysterical was she that she didn't even notice that the crowd had gone completely silent, or that Azula was approaching her from across the courtyard.
Hakoda stood, held captive by a thug, watching his daughter. Tears of horror and fear spilled over his face. This...can't be happening...
But it was.
"If anybody tries bending," yelled Azula, "they will be killed on the spot! My men are everywhere!" Sneering, she added, "and the Avatar is obviously unable to save you right now."
Bending over, she yanked Aang's head up by the hair.
Katara whimpered, catching Azula's attention. The insane girl stood, drunkenly sauntering to Katara. She stopped, her face right up next to the traumatized bride. Smirking, she placed a finger under Katara's chin, scraping it with her sharp, polished fingernails.
"The Water Tribe peasant." She whispered, her slight voice dripping with hate. Staring into Katara's eyes, her nose wrinkled in disgust. "How you defeated me, I will never know."
Katara couldn't think... she just couldn't. Her will was gone. She couldn't give Azula a witty remark, or even a frown...she could only close her eyes and plead silently.
Please, let him be okay...I'm not the Avatar...if he goes, I will never see him again...take me instead...then at least we could say goodbye.
"Open your eyes, peasant!" snapped Azula. "I want to watch your face as I...remodel...your husband."
The man holding Katara roughly pulled back her forehead, forcing her eyes to open. She clenched her jaw, staring upward into the pitch black sky. "Please..." she whispered."Please, please, please..."
"I said WATCH, girl!" Azula snarled. Katara felt a searing heat blaze across her face, narrowly missing. She flinched. Her captor shoved her head down, now forcing her to watch Azula.
The evil princess was standing with her foot on Aang's back. An obsessive smirk controlled her facial expression. "Now!" she screeched to the whole crowd. They stood dead silent. "WATCH!"
Bending over, she grabbed Aang's hair and wrenched his head up. Katara's already-mangled heart gave a feeble twist as Azula grabbed a knife from her belt. Her panic began to rise like vomit, and she suddenly screamed, tears running down her face in uncontrollable streams, "NO! No, PLEASE no!" she squirmed uselessly. "K-Kill me, instead!"
Azula laughed, knife poised below Aang's throat. "Girl, why would I kill you now? No, no, no...my plan is torture...to make you suffer. Since you are so...in love...with the Avatar, wouldn't it be logical to force you to watch me kill him?"
Katara was shaking. "No!" she groaned. "It's not!"
Azula opened her mouth to answer, but closed it, a confused expression on her face.
Suddenly, a pulsating wave of energy erupted from Aang's body. Azula, Katara, and the lone rebel were thrown backwards.
Katara threw her arms out to stop herself from landing on her face. As soon as her right hand made contact with the ground, she felt and heard a sickening snap, and her arm buckled. She gasped in pain, but held back a scream.
Back in the center of the clearing, Aang began to stand up. His eyes were still closed, but his arrow was glowing white-hot again. Blood dripped from his hairline.
Azula's thugs panicked. They heard what had happened to the other rebels three months ago, and now they wanted out. They ran around in frenzy, forcing their way through the crowd to the exits. In turn, the majority of the crowd began yelling and screaming again as many fled from the courtyard.
Katara attempted to sit up, but fell back quickly. She saw Aang from the ground. He was about fifteen feet away, standing straight now, with his hands at his side. His eyes were closed, his arrows still glowing. He swayed, expressionless, and slowly spread his arms out.
The air churned around him as he rose up, hovering three feet above ground. His robes whipped wildly as he clenched his hands, and every rebel in sight sunk two feet into the earth, caught in his grasp. Roaring, Aang brought his outstretched arms together with a sharp clap before slowly drawing them apart again.
A massive fissure opened in the earth underneath him, like the maw of some crazed animal, splitting the courtyard in two.
Katara mustered her strength and backed up slightly, although she knew she was in no danger. The mere sight of such power and rage stunned her.
The ground shook and rolled as the rebels were slowly drawn into the fissure. They were yelling frantically, begging for help, for release from the fate that awaited them. One by one, they tumbled into the abyss. Aang snapped his arms together once again, and the maw of the earth closed, sealed together as though nothing had disturbed it.
Katara lay on the ground, and a pang of sadness ran through her. He's going to beat himself up over that...but at least we're safe. She tried to stand again. Her vision blurred and she held back a scream. She stumbled backwards, almost passing out. Tears stung her eyes as she watched Aang. His eyes were still closed, and she got the feeling that he wasn't even awake.
The crowd was in frenzy. Everybody was cramming for the exit, and nobody seemed to care for anyone else. However, one man stopped and bent down, taking Katara's uninjured arm. She recognized him as her dresser. "Master Katara!" he yelled over the chaos, "we have to get you out of here! It's not safe!" he pulled her to her feet, trying to tug her toward the exit.
"No!" she yelled, trying to pull free. "Not without Aang!" squirming, she cried out in pain when her broken arm twisted.
"Katara!" He cried. "See some reason! He's just going to hurt you right now! We have to get you out!"
"No!" she screamed again, pulling free. "He would NEVER hurt me! He loves me, and right now he needs me! You may think otherwise, but I don't!" grimacing in pain, she told him, "You need to get out! I will be fine, but YOU are in danger! Go!"
The dresser stared at her, a painful expression on his face. Slowly nodding, he turned and ran away.
Katara sighed in relief. Trying not to jostle her arm, she made an attempt to turn her body around. Gritting her teeth, a small cry escaped her lips every time it moved even a millimeter.
But, she finally faced Aang.
He was swaying in a tipsy manner, his arrow flickering. Katara knew he was going to pass out again, and she felt an icy chill sweep through her.
"Where did Azula go?" she muttered. She was scared for Aang, because he was about to become vulnerable again.
She had just opened her mouth to shout his name when she was shoved back to the ground. Azula kicked her side, rolling Katara onto her back. Katara screamed when her arm fell from her grasp, plopping against the cement earth.
The maddened girl was staring at Katara with a snarl on her face. Her eyes flared with unparalleled hate and loathing.
Terror rushed through Katara. Glancing past Azula, she saw that Aang had fallen back to the ground.
"Now, peasant," Azula growled, "I will kill you."
Katara was helpless, and she knew it. Her vision was already fuzzy, and bending was out of the question. A strange, numb sensation was creeping up her arm. A single low moan barely crept up her throat. Shifting her head to glance at Aang one last time, she opened her eyes wide in shock when she saw his big, gray eyes staring at her in horror.
Katara quickly banished her shock. Giving him an adoring look, she tried to smile through her pain.
Silently, she mouthed: I love you.
Instantly, a crushed, utterly heartbroken expression swept over every inch of his young face.
Azula bellowed, swiping the dagger straight for Katara's chest.
A scream echoed throughout the courtyard.
Katara gasped and her eyes shot open, feeling her chest.
No pain...nothing. Then, she realized why.
A huge chunk of solid rock was jutting out over her body. Glancing up in confusion, she saw Azula on the ground. She was gasping for breath, and a thin line of blood was trickling from the corner of her mouth.
Katara stared, openmouthed in shock. It had happened so suddenly that she hadn't heard anything at all. Subconsciously, she rolled her head around, straining in difficulty to see Aang. She pushed herself, finally getting him into her line of sight.
He was on his feet, shaky arms raised. His lips were slightly parted, and Katara could see his chest heaving with labored breaths. A dark shadow covered his face, giving him a haggard look.
He didn't back out of his stance. Taking a shuddering breath, he said to Azula, "You need to leave. Now."
Katara saw his face go white, and realized just how much effort it was for him to simply speak. When she tried to stand up, he threw her a pleading look, obviously begging her to stay down for this one. She obliged only when her arm gave a throb. Aang cast a grateful smile, and then turned back to Azula.
The crowd, who had previously been so desperate to get out, now watched with tension.
Azula, groaning, staggered to her feet, grasping the side of her body. Katara thought that she was going to start screaming.
But she began to laugh.
At first, it was just a mirthless chuckle. But, it steadily escalated, gaining in madness and volume. She bent over, clutching a knee. Her body twisted, adding a freak grasp on the situation.
Aang felt like vomiting. His head felt as if it would split, Katara was hurt, and Azula had just gone completely insane. Flexing his fingers, he tried to clear his overly-cluttered mind.
"Lee!" he suddenly shouted. From the crowd, a head stirred.
"Lee!" he shouted again, his head spinning from the effort. "Get your men...arrest her."
This time, response was immediate. Aang felt a small rumble, and twelve men emerged from the crowd speedily. Lee appeared beside him, a grim expression giving him a disgusted look. The General motioned for his men to surround the crazed girl, and they did so.
Azula giggled hysterically, taking in the big Earthbenders. "Well," she laughed, "aren't I in a fix!" lifting a dainty finger, she touched the blood on her chin. Examining it, she smiled even broader. "What EVER shall I do?" sarcasm dripped off of her words like poisoned honey.
Aang's neck prickled and he slid closer to Katara.
Azula tapped her lips thoughtfully. "Oh!" she said, lips curling into a smile. "I know." Moving with the lithe of a rat-viper, Azula spun in a circle and sank to the ground, striking it in one fluid motion.
A wave of blue flame radiated out, toppling the Earthbenders and heading straight for Katara
Her eyes widened in fear. She couldn't move, couldn't react. She was a sitting duck.
Aang reacted as soon as Azula moved. He leapt in front of Katara and crouched, forming a V with his arms and splitting the flames in half. As the last of them dissipated, he heard crackling and looked up.
A bolt of lightning filled his vision.
Aang extended his arm and tensed as the energy surged through his body. Gritting his teeth, he rose and the lightning followed, blasting from the tips of his fingers into the night sky.
However, the lightning obscured his view of Azula, and he could not react to what was about to happen.
Azula had thrown a dagger with deadly accuracy. It was sailing right for Aang. No one could stop it.
As it flew, time seemed to slow down. Katara saw the gleaming blade; she knew it was spot on.
Involuntarily, an image flashed across her mind.
It was Aang, right after he had defeated Ozai. He was walking off of an airship, a robe draped over his shoulders. An exhausted, weary look was apparent on his face, but that didn't stop him from smiling when he saw Katara.
She saw herself in the flashback, standing just outside of the airship. She was staring at Aang, relief making her legs shake. As soon as he stepped off of the ramp, she ran to him, throwing her arms around his neck gently.
The image suddenly vanished, and Katara was dragged back into harsh reality. She tried to stand, and as she did so, the dagger struck Aang.
"NO!" she screamed, rolling over and forcing herself to her knees. Pain wracked her entire body, but she barely noticed it.
Aang fell, tumbling to the ground harshly. The knife protruded from his stomach. His breathing became gurgling and labored.
With a roar, Lee and his remaining men charged Azula.
Looking bored, the vile princess waved her hand. Fire consumed her, their blue arms enveloping her in their violent embrace. The Earthbenders halted, shielding their eyes from the searing heat.
Then, quick as it came, it vanished.
Azula was gone.
There were many exclamations of outrage among the soldiers, and they threw their hands up in frustration.
"This isn't over!" came her voice. Katara's eyes searched, falling on a rooftop. Azula was there, grasping her side. "Don't think you've gotten rid of ME, peasant!" she screeched, and disappeared.
The crowd seemed to be frozen. Everybody stared at the place she had vanished.
Katara tried to stand again. She fell over, realizing that her ankle was hurting severely. She didn't care. Dragging herself, she reached Aang. A surge of pain ran through her arm, but it barely registered.
She ran her fingers through his thick hair, pressing her palm against his cheek.
"Aang...?" she whispered. Tears flowed down her cheeks, more from fear of losing him than from the overwhelming agony she felt.
His eyes slowly opened.
A slight smile crossed her lips as they stared into each other's eyes...
Aang...she thought faintly.
Katara...he thought, vision blackening.
...and both fell unconscious. Katara's head fell onto his chest, her hand sliding to the ground.
The crowd converged on the couple, yelling for medics and healers.
Hakoda burst through the sea of people, falling to his daughter's side.
Several healers came through as well, immediately setting to work.
Katara and Aang struggled for life together, hearts beating as one.
As always, be sure to check out the rest of the series, more chapters coming soon!
For the collective works of the author, go here.